• From Niagara winery to Shawn & Ed Brewing Co.

    Ed Madronich of Shawn & Ed Brewing Co. in Dundas.

    My column, Eating Niagara, runs every second Wednesday in the St. Catharines Standard, Niagara Falls Review and Welland Tribune.

    The saying goes that it takes a lot of beer to make great wine.

    But one Niagara vintner is proving the opposite true.

    Ed Madronich, proprietor of Flat Rock Cellars in Jordan, is showing that it also takes top-notch tipple to turn out noteworthy suds.

    He’s doing it with The Shawn & Ed Brewing Co., the 10-month-old brewery that he opened in an old Dundas curling and skating rink with university buddy Shawn Till.

    The venture fulfils a nearly lifelong dream the two discovered they shared while shooting hoops for McMaster University’s basketball team some 25 years ago. And even though the beverage lineup at the brewery, known to locals as “the Shed,” is more hoppy than tannic, Niagara’s influence on this heady pursuit in a Hamilton suburb is undeniable.

    “I believe there’s lots of synergies between the wine business and the beer business,” Madronich said. “I’m leveraging both for this to be successful.”

    Madronich flouts all those old wives’ tales about never mixing beer and wine with a lager-heavy roster that shows the two to be a perfect pairing.

    Take the flagship Shawn & Ed brew, BarrelShed No. 1. This ruby-red beauty has sweet caramel notes and gets its body from aging in Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir barrels. Since batch No. 1, some of each BarrelShed brew has been set aside to use in the following ferment. The result is glorious — rich and layered.

    “I believe over time, it adds complexity,” Madronich said about the BarrelShed’s secret ingredient. “It has the complexity of wine. BarrelShed is our globally unique beer. There’s nothing like it in the world.”

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    Category Beyond Niagara, Food Finds

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  • Get growing: Find a community garden in Niagara

    My column, Eating Niagara, runs every second Wednesday in the St. Catharines Standard, Niagara Falls Review and Welland Tribune.

    Call me a keener, but soon after the calendar changed to Jan. 1, I bought myself some squash seeds to grow in my garden this summer.

    I got a seed catalogue in the mail the week before, so I figured I had the all-clear to start planning what I’d like to do months from now with my tiny patch of earth.

    I won’t be planting those butternut or bush delicata seeds in my backyard, though. That’s the domain of a big, old silver maple casting shade over my postage stamp lot. It’s heavenly if you’re a human sitting outside on a hot July day, but not so much if you’re a tomato plant clamouring to catch some sun rays.

    Those squash, along with a handful of tomatoes, perhaps a melon, and most definitely some kale will take root in my own 10×20-foot plot behind Grantham Mennonite Church in St. Catharines instead. My tiny tract is part of a sunny swath behind the church that’s used as a community garden run by Links for Greener Learning.

    This will be my third summer as a community gardener with Links for Greener Learning, an non-profit dedicated to providing newcomers to Canada with experiential learning opportunities. Links is one of a handful of local groups running community gardens in the region. It’s currently taking applications from green thumbs who need a place to plant this year.

    Selfishly, Links fulfils my need to feel like a master gardener with every vegetable I successfully harvest. (I hoist each haul skyward like baby Simba from the Lion King and celebrate by snapping a pic.) But that community garden has given me more than fodder for Instagram and fishing hole-type stories about giant tomatoes I’ve grown.

    It’s given me one of my favourite ways to while away a lunch hour, take a break from writing or spend an evening outdoors. I get to be in the company of ambitious amateur horticulturalists who have a whole world of experience growing eggplant, tomatoes, sesame seeds, corn, herbs and leafy greens.

    It was the highlight of my summer last year to pull weeds around my peppers while my gardening neighbour from China tended to her sesame plants, the family from West Africa tied their prolific tomatoes, and a couple from the Middle East raked between fertile rows of inky black eggplant.

    We broke ground together in our fertile mosaic, and broke bread together at potlucks and other events Links held to celebrate the growing season.

    Read the rest of the story and find a community garden in Niagara.

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    Category Food Security, In the Garden

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  • Raising a Glass to Food Literacy with Garage D’Or Ciders

    Thanks Shutterstock!

    This post was sponsored by the Greenbelt Fund. What does that mean? I was paid to write about a topic of my choosing inspired by the most recent story published in The Toronto Star related to Ontario’s Greenbelt. The ideas, interviews and writing are my own. The Greenbelt Fund fact-checked all information, including numbers and statistics, about the Greenbelt in this post before publication.

    There’s a landmark on the other side of the Welland Canal that my daughter points out every time we drive by.

    “Fruit farm!” she yells from the back seat whenever we pass the shuttered Werner’s Fruit Farm stand on Lakeshore Road.

    She wants to stop at the red plywood hut and buy peaches, plums, apricots and raspberries, just like we did every week in the summer. Enter Killjoy Mom.

    “We ate all the fruit last summer. We have to wait for more to grow,” I say.

    She got equally excited on CSA pickup days this winter at Creek Shore Farms in Port Dalhousie.

    “We go see Amanda and Ryan? They give us carrots?” she’d ask every Wednesday when I picked her up from day care.

    At nearly three, she knows the names of most of the folks at our local food stops. Olivia also loves to help me water my community garden plot, too. And she stands next to me in the kitchen, taking on the important job of stirring, or raiding the utensil draw so she can pretend to whip up something  of her own. Continue reading

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    Category Food Finds, Food Security

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  • Greenhouse turns over new leaf with Niagara Lettuce Co.

    The team at Niagara Lettuce Co. in Vineland.

    My column, Eating Niagara, runs every second Wednesday in the St. Catharines Standard, Niagara Falls Review and Welland Tribune.

    Eat healthier. Cut food waste. Be kinder to the planet.

    They’re a common refrain at this time of year, the height of resolution season.

    If they’re your goals for the new year, there’s an easy way to spare yourself resolution remorse for any tumbles off the proverbial wagon: Eat a salad. Just make sure it’s made with leaves grown by Niagara Lettuce Co.

    The Vineland greens machine that’s a division of Sunrise Greenhouses grows between 1,300 and 1,500 heads of Boston, green and red oak leaf lettuce each week — even now in the greyest and coldest depths of January. So if eating local is also on your to-do list, you really have no excuses.

    Dennis Sengsavang, who grows the heads of tender greens for Niagara Lettuce Co., will confirm how easy it is to make friends with salad.

    “I became a big salad guy,” he said. “I’ll be honest, it’s a passion for growing. I love seeing it from the beginning to end.”

    Still, this isn’t just any salad that Sengsavang grows.

    Sunrise Greenhouses is better known for being early adopters of new and niche houseplant production. For years potted flowers, such as campanula, rather than food have been Sunrise’s bread and butter.

    The operation began branching into edibles when it worked with the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre to develop the pixie grape, a popular and petite ornamental wine grapevine that comes in Pinot Meunier, and soon Merlot, Riesling and Cab Franc.

    But Sunrise general manager Rodney Bierhuizen knows tastes change when it comes to the plants we place in our living rooms. Salad, by contrast, is a relative constant in our kitchens, and a more sustainable business plan than that stylish succulent sitting on my coffee table.

    Read the rest of the story

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    Category Food Finds, On the Farm

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